COMMITTEES - Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia - Report

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (19:08): Like Senator Bartlett, I congratulate the committee, all of the witnesses who appeared before the committee and the secretariat who assisted us on the committee in the production of this report on tourism in northern Australia. It's fortuitous that the Minister for Northern Australia is with us in the chamber as well, no doubt attracted by the debate on the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which the minister is very much aware of, involved in, supportive of and promoting. This report on tourism is, as Senator Bartlett rightly said, a unanimous report by members of an all-party committee: the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia. The committee travelled far and wide throughout northern Australia. We heard submissions and looked at some of the fabulous tourism assets that we have in the north. I have to say that, for most of us on the committee, we were going home, as one would say. We're well familiar with the greatest tourism asset we have in the north and, in fact, in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, which continues to attract visitors from all over the world in spite of what I call treacherous conduct by some environmental groups who are trying to tell the world that the Great Barrier Reef is dead when we all know it isn't. It's still there and it's a magnificent spectacle and a magnificent asset that is so well managed by the federal government with, I have to say, some help from the Queensland government.

The Barrier Reef draws people from all over the world and creates hundreds of thousands of jobs for Australians and for a lot of international part-time workers too, I have to say, who man some of the wonderful tourist destinations we have there. The Top End, again, is a fabulous place for tourists, as is Yeppoon, which Senator Bartlett spoke about as well, in Central Queensland. They are real tourism assets, gems, which are just so special and make northern Australia such an attractive place for visitors from southern Australia and from the world. I congratulate the chair, my friend and colleague the Hon. Warren Entsch, who is the member for the most northern seat, Leichhardt, on his chairmanship and his enthusiasm on this particular report.

I don't want to hold the Senate too long, because it has been a long day, but I just want to briefly mention in passing that the committee also travelled to a not-often-visited part of Australia, the Indian Ocean Territories of Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands. We spent a few days on Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands. They are not the easiest places to get to but are a wonderful tourism asset for Australia which, as I say, regrettably too few Australians know about or can get to. One of the problems with tourism advancement in those Indian Ocean Territories, which have so much to offer, is the difficulty in getting there at an affordable price. Most tourists who get there at the moment are international tourists who come via Jakarta, which is only a hop, step and a jump across the ditch, so to speak. But the islands do have huge attractions for the world and indeed for most Australians who haven't yet had the privilege of being able to get there.

For me personally, it was a homecoming to territories which I was very involved with when I was the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government. Not a lot had changed in the 15 years since I was the minister, but I'm delighted that the current Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, John McVeigh, has taken a renewed interest in Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands. A lot of the things that need to be done on those islands that should have been done in the last 10 or so years will now start moving, and I thank Dr McVeigh for his interest.

Across the board, this is a good report. It does highlight some of the fabulous tourism assets we have in northern Australia. I do agree with Senator Bartlett that this was a very valuable inquiry, a very useful inquiry, an inquiry which, I am sure, the government will respond to favourably and which will allow the great attraction that is northern Australia to be more accessible to visitors from Australia and from the world alike. I recommend the report. I recommend its recommendations to the government and, like Senator Bartlett, I look forward to the government response in due course. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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